Am I in Love
Written by Misti Cain

love: how to tell it’s real (and why it’s so #$@! confusing)

“Does he love me? I wanna know. How can I tell if he loves me so?”



These questions, posed in the ‘Shoop Shoop (It’s In His Kiss)’ song, have been the underlying cause of so much confusion and heartache in many relationships.


Both women and men frequently wonder, ‘does he/she love me’, ‘how can I tell if he/she loves me’ or ‘how do I know if it’s love’. Thankfully, the answers to these questions are simple and straightforward…if you know one thing.


There’s one foundational question that, when defined, will answer nearly every other question you might have about love. And that question is:


What is love?


If you know what love is, it’s easy to identify it in yourself or someone else. You’ll also know if you’re appropriately receiving or giving it. And it won’t matter whether you’re talking about romantic, familial or platonic love.


While that sounds simple, the problem is there are too many conflicting and often incorrect definitions out there.

If you know what love is, it’s easy to identify it in yourself or someone else. And it won’t matter whether you’re talking about romantic, familial or platonic love.

However, if you look at the studies about the psychology of love and relationships, for example those of psychologist and Professor John Gottman, a marital stability and divorce prediction expert, you’ll find four attributes that best define true love.


But first, let’s dig into why people are so confused about what love is.


You think love is a feeling

Most people (as well as books, movies, songs, etc.) describe love as a feeling. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Those ooey gooey feelings are nothing more than limerence, aka infatuation.


Physiologically, you’re experiencing the effects of a chemical cocktail made up of adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. Adrenaline is the cause of your racing heart; dopamine is giving you those intense rushes of pleasure; and serotonin is causing your lack of focus, sleep and appetite.


After the infatuation brew wears off – which it will, given a few weeks to a few years – the hormone oxytocin, released during orgasms as well as childbirth, generally helps people continue to bond. But, as we know, feelings change.

Most people describe love as a feeling.

Spoiler alert: it’s not.


You think you can fall in and out of love

If I had a nickel for every time someone said, ‘I’ve fallen in love’ or ‘I’ve fallen out of love’, I’d be in a much different tax bracket. The truth about love is it’s not a hole or a wagon or any other thing you can fall into or out of.


So, if love isn’t a feeling and it isn’t a hole what is it?


Love is a verb

Simply put: Love is an action. Read on for the more complex explanation. Remember when I mentioned there are four tenets of love? Well, each of those involve action – and not the act of falling. A helpful mnemonic device is the word LOVE itself.


L is for Longevity

If you look at the letter ‘L’ you’ll see long straight lines. This should help you remember that one of the four attributes of love is ‘longevity’.


Stony Brook Professor Arthur Aron conducted an experiment where he asked complete strangers to pair off and perform several self-disclosure and relationship-building tasks that gradually escalated in intensity, including staring deeply into each other’s eyes without talking for a prolonged period of time. Many of the couples admitted to feeling deeply attracted after approximately 45-minutes.


The keyword there is ‘feeling’.


If there’s anything to be learned from watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette it’s that you can develop (and then lose) strong feelings for someone, multiple someone’s even, in mere minutes.


But for it to truly be love and not a passing fling, you’ve got to put in time. How much time, you ask? As much time as you have. The longer you’re with someone, the stronger your bond. However, longevity alone isn’t the answer.


O is for Openness

As its shape implies, the second attribute of love is ‘openness’. Are you able to be your authentic, genuine self with your partner and are they able to be themselves with you? Are you both transparent – direct and honest without being brash or mean? If the answers are yes and yes, you’ve got two of the four attributes of love in the bag.


Openness also means that your judgments of the other person aren’t hyper-critical. Everyone has flaws and makes mistakes so judgment will occur throughout the course of any relationship; what matters is how frequent and how harsh those judgments are.


V is for Vulnerability

The letter “V” is made by joining two lines together and leaving a wide open gap at the top. This symbolizes the third attribute of love which is ‘vulnerability’.


When a person is vulnerable they’re susceptible to injury; their guards are down and no ammunition is being fired.  No matter the relationship type, if there are barriers – defensiveness, physical or emotional withdrawal, distrust (with no basis), or persistent accusations and blame – the ability to love is diminished.


Without vulnerability you’re constantly defending yourself, stonewalling and dismissing, or attacking the other person in the relationship. The thing about vulnerability is it’s a two-person job.


E is for Equality

This brings us to the final attribute of love, ‘equality’. Relationships that are one-sided don’t work; both parties need to participate. While it’s possible for one person to be loving while the other is not – just like it’s possible to be assigned a partner for a class project and doing all of the work yourself – it’s not healthy.


Equality means you treat each other as equal partners (in adult relationships) and with respect (i.e. parent/child relationships), you share the same values, you’re both willing and able to compromise, and your goals are aligned. It also means you both strive to always give 100% to the relationship. If both parties focus on giving their all, there’ll be enough effort to keep the ship going.


Since it’s impossible to always give 100%, on days when you can only give 60% (you’re sick or hurt) and your partner can only give 75% (they’re stressed or uncharacteristically moody), your relationship is still getting the attention it deserves.


Conversely, if each side is only aiming for 50/50, that means you’re looking to give a half-hearted effort but you’re simultaneously expecting half back. That’s like paying someone a dollar and borrowing 50 cents at the same time. In addition, when you have days, or weeks, where you can only give 30% and your partner can only give 40%, the relationship will suffer.


In summary:

  • Love is an action comprised of four attributes
  • Longevity – the length of time you’re together
  • Openness – being yourself and communicating
  • Vulnerability – trusting and letting your guards down
  • Equality – Mutual respect and striving to always give 100%


Now that you know what love is, you can ditch those ‘how do I know’ quizzes. Have interesting thoughts or opinions about this post? Leave them in the comments below. If you have a specific question, login and ask or, if you’re not a member get whyzze today.


One thought on “love: how to tell it’s real (and why it’s so #$@! confusing)

  1. I’m prepared to share this and shout it from the rooftops! This resonates with me SO very much. After reading it, I can definitely see that I’m in an extremely loving relationship, but I was also able to see why some of my familial relationships, past relationships and friendships have failed. The Four Attributes are beyond ingenious. Everyone needs to read this!! Amazing, AH-MAY-ZING, insight Misti!

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